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Egor Koshelev
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Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits: How Laila Lalami Portrays the Human Faces of Migration

Laila Lalami's Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits: A Review

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is a novel by Moroccan-American writer Laila Lalami, published in 2005. The novel tells the stories of four Moroccan migrants who risk their lives to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in a small inflatable boat, hoping to reach Spain and start a new life. The novel alternates between flashbacks that reveal the backgrounds and motivations of each character, and flash-forwards that show the consequences and challenges of their migration. The novel explores themes such as identity, religion, culture, gender, class, and human rights.

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In this review, I will analyze the four main characters of the novel and how their experiences reflect the realities and dilemmas of many Moroccan migrants today. I will also discuss the significance and implications of the novel for the contemporary issues of migration, identity, and belonging. I will argue that the novel offers a nuanced and empathetic portrayal of the human faces behind the statistics and stereotypes of migration.


The Islamist Student

Faten is a devout Muslim who wears the hijab and studies law at university. She comes from a poor family that lives in a shantytown near Casablanca. She is intelligent and ambitious, but she faces discrimination and harassment from her professors and classmates, who view her as a fanatic and a troublemaker. She joins an Islamist group that advocates for social justice and political reform in Morocco. She participates in protests and distributes pamphlets that criticize the corruption and repression of the regime. She also befriends Noura, a wealthy and secular student who is fascinated by her faith and courage.

Faten's life takes a dramatic turn when she is expelled from university for her political activism. She loses her scholarship and her chance to pursue a career as a lawyer. She also loses contact with Noura, who is pressured by her family to cut ties with her. Faten decides to migrate to Spain, where she hopes to find work and education. She borrows money from a smuggler and joins the other passengers on the boat.

Faten's journey ends in tragedy when she is arrested by the Spanish police and deported back to Morocco. She is interrogated and tortured by the Moroccan authorities, who accuse her of being a terrorist. She is released after a few weeks, but she has no place to go and no one to help her. She faces an uncertain future, as she has no money, no job, no education, and no protection.


The Aspiring Writer

Murad is a literature graduate who works as a tour guide in Tangier. He comes from a middle-class family that lives in a modern apartment in the city. He is passionate about books and writing, but he is frustrated by the lack of opportunities and cultural stagnation in Morocco. He dreams of becoming a writer in Europe, where he believes he can find inspiration and recognition. He collects stories from his clients and his travels, hoping to turn them into novels someday.

Murad's life changes when he meets an American couple who offer him a job as their driver and translator in Spain. He sees this as his chance to escape from his boring and hopeless situation in Morocco. He agrees to work for them for a few months, and then plans to stay in Spain and pursue his writing career. He pays the smuggler and boards the boat with the other migrants.

Murad's journey ends in success when he manages to evade the authorities and find his employers in Madrid. He works as a hotel receptionist for them, and enjoys the comforts and pleasures of his new life. He also meets other Moroccan migrants who share their stories and experiences with him. However, he soon realizes that his dream of becoming a writer is not as easy as he thought. He faces difficulties in adapting to his new environment and identity. He feels lonely and alienated, as he does not belong to either culture. He also faces discrimination and prejudice from some Spaniards, who treat him as an inferior and a threat.


The Unemployed Husband

Aziz is a former textile worker who lost his job due to the economic crisis. He comes from a rural village near Fez, where he lives with his wife Zohra and her parents. He is loyal and hardworking, but he feels ashamed and depressed by his inability to provide for his family. He hopes to find work in Spain and send money back to his wife, who is pregnant with their first child.

Aziz's life takes a positive turn when he receives a letter from his cousin Rachid, who lives in Barcelona. Rachid tells him that he has found a job for him in a restaurant, and that he can help him cross the border. Aziz is overjoyed by this news, and decides to migrate to Spain, despite the risks and the objections of his wife. He sells his belongings and pays the smuggler for a place on the boat.

Aziz's journey ends in mixed results when he succeeds in finding a job as a dishwasher in the restaurant owned by Rachid's friend. He works hard and saves money, which he sends regularly to his wife through Rachid. He also makes friends with other Moroccan migrants who work in the same area. However, he becomes estranged from his wife, who feels neglected and abandoned by him. He also falls in love with another woman, Khadija, who works as a waitress in the same restaurant. He faces a dilemma between staying loyal to his wife or following his heart.


The Abused Wife

Halima is a mother of three who suffers from domestic violence at the hands of her husband Rachid (not related to Aziz's cousin). She comes from an affluent family that lives in Rabat, where she used to work as a teacher before getting married. She is educated and independent, but she is trapped in an unhappy and abusive marriage. She decides to escape from her husband and start a new life with her children in Spain.

meets the smuggler and boards the boat with the other migrants.

Halima's journey ends in disaster when she is separated from her children during the crossing. She is rescued by the Spanish coast guard and taken to a detention center, where she awaits deportation or asylum. She does not know what happened to her children, who are missing and presumed dead. She suffers from guilt and grief, as she blames herself for putting them in danger. She also fears for her life, as she knows that her husband will kill her if he finds out about her escape.


Laila Lalami's Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is a novel that depicts the lives and struggles of four Moroccan migrants who attempt to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in search of a better life in Spain. The novel shows the complex and diverse reasons that drive people to migrate, as well as the harsh and uncertain realities that they face in their destination. The novel also challenges the stereotypes and prejudices that often surround migrants, and reveals their humanity and dignity.

The novel is relevant and timely, as it addresses the contemporary issues of migration, identity, and belonging that affect millions of people around the world. The novel invites us to empathize with the migrants and to understand their perspectives and experiences. The novel also asks us to reflect on our own position and responsibility in relation to the global phenomenon of migration.

I enjoyed reading the novel, as I found it engaging and informative. I liked how the novel used flashbacks and flash-forwards to create suspense and contrast. I also liked how the novel used multiple points of view to show the diversity and complexity of the characters. I think the novel is well-written and well-researched, as it shows a deep knowledge and understanding of the Moroccan culture and society, as well as the Spanish context and policies.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Moroccan migration to Spain, or who wants to read a compelling and realistic story about human resilience and hope. I think this novel is suitable for readers of different ages and backgrounds, as it offers a universal message of empathy and compassion.


  • Q: Who is Laila Lalami?

  • A: Laila Lalami is a Moroccan-American writer who was born in Rabat in 1968. She moved to the United States in 1992, where she earned her PhD in linguistics from the University of Southern California. She is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. She has published four novels and a collection of essays.

  • Q: What is the genre of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits?

  • A: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is a literary fiction novel that can also be classified as a social realism or a migration narrative.

  • Q: When and where was Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits published?

  • A: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits was first published in 2005 by Algonquin Books in the United States. It was later published in several other countries, including Morocco, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and India.

  • Q: How did Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits receive critical acclaim?

  • A: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits received positive reviews from critics and readers alike. It was shortlisted for several awards, such as the Caine Prize for African Writing, the Orange Prize for Fiction, and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It was also selected as one of the best books of 2005 by The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, The Seattle Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, The Austin Chronicle, Newsday, The Oregonian, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times Literary Supplement, The New Statesman, The Observer,

  • Q: What are some other novels by Laila Lalami?

  • A: Some other novels by Laila Lalami are Secret Son (2009), which is about a young man who discovers his true identity and his father's involvement in a political movement in Morocco; The Moor's Account (2014), which is a historical fiction novel that reimagines the story of Estebanico, a Moroccan slave who was part of a Spanish expedition to Florida in the 16th century; and The Other Americans (2019), which is a mystery novel that explores the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident that kills a Moroccan immigrant in California.



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